I define a function which counts the number of negative elements in a list as follows:

g[x1_, x2_] := Count[{x1, x2}, _?Negative]

Plugging in values shows that it does what it's supposed to do

g[1, -2]

returns 1

For some reason using replacement rules doesn't work as expected

g[x1, x2] /. {x1 -> 1, x2 -> -2}

returns 0

Thanks for the answers. I am not quite clear on why Count behaves differently from any other function. If I define

g[x1_,x2_]:= x1+x2

it works just fine. Why is in the case of Count anything evaluated before it gets values in the first place? Is this a bug? I thought that using set delayed (:=) in my function definition would prevent the RHS to be evaluated?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ try g[x1, x2] /. {x1 -> 1, x2 -> -2} // Trace to see what is happening. $\endgroup$
    – kglr
    May 19, 2016 at 0:10
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    – Michael E2
    May 19, 2016 at 0:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ and Unevaluated[g[x1, x2]] /. {x1 -> 1, x2 -> -2} to get 1. $\endgroup$
    – kglr
    May 19, 2016 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ g @@ ({x1, x2} /. {x1 -> 1, x2 -> -2}) $\endgroup$ May 19, 2016 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ This question comes up fairly often; can anyone propose a canonical original which this should be marked as a duplicate of? $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Wizard
    May 19, 2016 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


The problem is that g[x1, x2] returns 0 with your definition and this is evaluated before the substitutions are applied. You could define

g2[x1_?NumericQ, x2_?NumericQ] := Count[{x1, x2}, _?Negative]

to hold off evaluation until values has been given to x1 and x2. Then g2[x1, x2] just returns g2[x1, x2] and g2[x1, x2] /. {x1 -> 1, x2 -> -2} return 1 as desired.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think NumericQ instead of NumberQ would be better. Try g2[x1, x2] /. {x1 -> 1, x2 -> -Pi}. (+1) $\endgroup$
    – kglr
    May 21, 2016 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. Will edit. $\endgroup$
    – sorenba
    May 22, 2016 at 2:00

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